Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer insisted on Monday that Microsoft is still serious about tablets.
Ballmer reiterated that there will be Windows 7-based slates on the market this year, while Windows Vice President Tami Reller showed off a couple of models, including the dual-screen Libretto that Toshiba has in the works as well as a slate from Chinese computer maker Hanvon.
"Over the course of the next several months, you will see a range of Windows 7-based slates that I think you'll find quite impressive," Ballmer said, speaking at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C. There will be models from Dell, Asus, Samsung, and Toshiba, Ballmer said, adding that they would come in many sizes and many prices and include models both with and without keyboards. "We are hard-core about this," Ballmer said.
But just having Windows 7 slates on the market doesn't mean that Microsoft will have a true answer to Apple's iPad. Truth be told, there have been Windows-based slates on the market for nearly a decade. I remember a fairly thin NEC slate that ran the first version of Windows XP Tablet PC edition.
Windows has some advantages, such as the ability to run Flash and do serious multitasking. However, it can't match the nearly instant start-up and shut-off of the iPad and will probably lag in battery life. Moreover, despite the addition of multitouch support, Windows remains an operating system that really longs for a keyboard for most uses.
A few years back, Microsoft had a project--Origami--that was designed to help make Windows more suitable for small tablets. However, it was in many ways ahead of its time, as the devices that came to market were bigger, pricier, and offered poorer battery life than the vision Microsoft had in mind. But by largely abandoning Origami, Microsoft lost out on the opportunity to keep refining the software and having something really well suited to such devices by the time, cheap, long-lasting tablets were more technically feasible.
Likewise, Ballmer talked about the coming of Windows Phone 7 and the ground the company hopes to make up after admittedly missing an entire generation of innovation.
"We missed a generation with Windows Mobile," Ballmer said. "We really did miss almost a release cycle. But Windows Phone 7, which we had a chance to debut at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year, has received really quite nice reviews, really quite remarkable reviews. And I think we will give you a set of Windows-based devices which people will be proud to carry at home, and which will really fit and support the kinds of scenarios that enterprise IT is trying to make happen with the phone form factor."
But Microsoft still seems to be moving at a different pace than its rivals. Just in the time since Microsoft has been showing Windows Phone 7 (let alone the years it has been planning it), Apple has shipped the new iPhone as well as added multitasking to its operating system. Google, meanwhile, has shown an impressive array of new features with the Froyo release of Android and has managed to get versions of Android shipping from all the major carriers and most handset makers, including many of the partners that Microsoft is counting on for Windows Phone 7.